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How to and Not to Criticize

For this site, and for its sister sites The Phi-Phenomenon and The Angel Phenomenon, the Webmaster has had to look at thousands of lists. In the course of this search, he has also seen many criticisms of lists. Granted, there is no such thing as a perfect list (although the Webmaster would immodestly suggest that the closest thing to a perfect list is one that comes from a compilation of many lists from people with a variety of opinions), but it is very annoying to see a perfectly good and useful list (or anything else for that matter) bashed simply so some criticizer can feel superior.

How Not to Criticize

There are bad ways to criticize. For example, one could simply say that the list is terrible and must have been made by an idiot. Why is the list terrible? It is terrible because the criticizer says that it is terrible. There are some fairly implausible lists floating around, but even a poor list has more thought than does a simple statement saying that the list is terrible. Much of this comes from people who are unable to distinguish between opinion and fact. People seem to think that merely stating an opinion as if it were fact is enough to make the criticizer right. Sometimes, a criticizer engages in snark to make a point. Snark can be fun. The Webmaster does indulge in snark every once in a while (or, perhaps, more often). However, snark alone is not criticism. Snark needs to be paired with substance. The Webmaster hopes that there is substance surrounding his snark.

There is one even worse way to criticize something. One can talk about "Odumbo" or "Libtards." There is no better way to sound stupid.

How to Criticize

This is not to say that all lists (or anything else) should be above criticism. However, there are more intelligent ways to do so. First, one should at least admit that one is expressing an opinion, not a fact. For example, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and Vertigo (1958) touch and inspire many people. The Webmaster happens not to be one of those "many people." Saying that these films are terrible would be bad criticism. It would be better at least to note that these films did not work for the Webmaster while acknowledging that they work for many other people who may be as intelligent as the Webmaster. Often, the context is enough. For example, reviews and essays (including this one) are, by definition, expressions of opinion. People who criticize reviewers for being biased (i.e., for having opinions) are simply performing bad criticism to criticize what is usually much better criticism.

An even better method would be to note why the criticizer holds the opinion. For example, the Webmaster found much of the acting in 2001: A Space Odyssey to be wooden, and he found the story to be pretentious. Furthermore, he does not find that the first use of a weapon to kill a fellow hominid to be an advance. This is much better than saying, "2001: A Space Odyssey sucked and everybody who likes it is an idiot."

However, this is not the best way to criticize. The best way to criticize is to take whatever is being criticized and do it better. For example, if you do not like a list, make a better list. This does not always work. After all, it takes more than talent to make a good film. Furthermore, being better does not mean being closer to one's own opinion. Being better means that it meets a standard that is as close to objective as is possible better than the thing that is being criticized. This is not easy, but progress comes from things being better.

This is the stealth purpose of this essay. Some readers might interpret the purpose as saying "Do not criticize my work." This is not true. Instead, this essay is an invitation to all readers to do what this site does, but to do it even better. Collect better data. Perform better analyses. Make better interpretations of the results. You find the Quality Share Ranking to be implausible? It was created in part to inspire someone to take this idea and do it better. Be that someone. You do not like the theory that fans who grew disenchanted with the show did so as a reaction to the introduction of Tara and her relationship with Willow? Guess what, the Webmaster, who loves both Tara and her relationship with Willow, does not like that theory either. He would love it if someone came up with a better theory. However, "better theory" means one that explains the data better, not one that necessarily conforms to his opinions better.

This page was last modified on March 1, 2013